Chances are, if you are reading this, you are considered a “car person”. One of the prime pleasures of life for the car enthusiast is spotting cool, rare, or otherwise noteworthy cars, in the wild, recognizing them, and then probably notifying everyone nearby as to the cool-ness of that car. Noises, body work, and wheels can all be hints as to something special rolling down the road, however automakers generally utilize special badges to distinguish such models from their more plebian cousins. Many of these special-model badges take the form of acronyms, presenting quite the learning experience for the new enthusiast. While recognition of these acronyms will come over time, the meaning behind them is often lost on observers. The list today highlights a few important motoring brand acronyms from around the world, with the short history provided for each a great place to learn the basics on each.
Possibly one of the most sought after enthusiast-acronym branded car for the up-and-coming generation, STI (or STi pre-2006) stands for Subaru Technica International, and was founded in 1988 by Subaru’s parent company Fuji Heavy Industries to spearhead the brands motorsports efforts. Famous for their World Rally Cross efforts—up until the brand left the sport in 2008—actual STI models are numbered in their hundreds, and incredibly sought after. Most STI’s which roam the roads are merely a trim-level developed by STI for Subaru to produce.
My dream STI–as well as everybody else’s–is the 22B model, which is pictured here as a 1998 model.
Honda’s most recognizable acronym is not actually a model designation, but rather a technology. Featured on most main-stream models now, VTEC used to be a mainstay under the hood of the performance models Honda offered throughout the world. A thorough VTEC Explanation can be found at that link, but in laymen’s terms, it is a way to have a quiet, efficient engine at low RPM, and a performance screamer at high RPM (VTEC, Yo!).
While VTEC may be synonymous with Honda performance, Honda itself chooses to brand its sporty models “Si” for Sport Injected, and Type-R for Type-Race. Si models are not the fastest, generally being second fastest, while also having nice interiors. Yet again they do not have the nicest interiors, generally featuring a second best. The above may be the new Si Coupe.
TRD, or Toyota Racing Development, is one of the most-involved, longest-lived factory sponsored racing division. Claiming a birth year of 1956, the Tacoma and it’s rear-side decals are the most visible TRD branding today in the States. The modern TRD actually comprises three separate companies: TRDusa for the USDM, Toyota Technocraft for the JDM, and Toyota Motorsport GmbH to race in F1. These three companies ensure that TRD offers a factory-sponsored aftermarket for the enthusiast to turn to, anywhere in the world.
The first proper TRD off-road offering, this TRD Tacoma is a serious off-road machine. It also looks the part, especially in this Arctic Camo theme.
Ford has a long history with performance models, yet did not form a performance brand until 1981, when the Special Vehicle Operations opened its doors. Most famous for their production of the SVO turbo-Mustang, they closed their doors in 1986. In 1991 Ford created a new development department, the Special Vehicles Team, which has produced a wide-range of models in the days since, including my beloved SVT Focus. While the SVT brand still exists for the US market, developmental efforts have been turned into a global affair, with the inclusion of TeamRS from Europe under the umbrella brand of Ford Performance. Examples of models they have produced include the ST-line of smaller cars. ST itself stands for Sport Trim or Sport Technology, depending on who is asked.
The F-150 based Raptor is a factory off-road racer. Perhaps one of the coolest vehicles of the 21st century so far, the Raptor is the sole remaining SVT offering.
One of the newest American motorsport acronyms, SRT stands for Street and Racing Technology. Known for putting really big engines in whatever their parent company throws at them, SRT offerings are known for big speed. SRT as a brand did not exist until 2004, with previous SRT models being developed by a succession of teams. Originally developing cars under the name Special Vehicle Engineering (SVE), this team was itself a melding of “Team Viper” and “Team Prowler”, to focus internal effort by Mopar. At some point, SVE was turned into Performance Vehicle Operations (PVO), before finally morphing into the current SRT brand (which most previous models had already been released as).
With the 500bhp 8.3L V10 out of a Viper, the Ram SRT-10 is my favorite offering from the company. While most commonly equipped with a 4-speed automatic, for true crazy, a 6-speed manual is on offer.
Chevrolet was one of the first to pick a performance acronym, and have stuck with it. Debuting on the 1961 Impala, the SS, or Super Sport, trim level represented major performance upgrades over standard trim levels. This trend continues to this day.
To add confusion to a two-letter acronym, Chevrolet now offers the SS sedan model line.
Another long-lived acronym synonymous with performance is Volkswagen’s (and to an extent Europe’s) acronym of GTI. With usual German efficiency, GTI has a simple meaning; ‘Grand Touring Injection’. Volkswagen changes the last letter to signify engine choice, with the petrol offering being labeled GTI, the diesel GTD, and the electric GTE. The slightly more luxury focused sedan models are labeled GLI.
The most recent GTI iteration, it has been, is, and probably always will be a safe hot hatchback choice.
Coming to the forefront in recent years, the acronym AMG denotes Mercedes-Benz’s high-performance models. AMG stands for Aufrecht Melcher Grossaspach. While German enough to be confusing, the name is actually quite simple, with the first two words being the last names of the ex-Mercedes employees who started the company, while the last being the birthplace of Herr Aufrecht. Originally started as a racing engine foundry in 1967, they operated as an independent tuning/engineering firm until Mercedes bought a controlling share of the stock in 1999. In 2005, Mercedes completed the AMG purchase, and as such AMG has become a full factory affair. While the focus has moved to encompass the entire range of performance, great attention to detail is still spent on the unique engines, keeping with the traditions of the company.
My favorite AMG offering during my life, the SLS is a gullwing’ed, V8 monster. The ultra-rare AMG Hammer and SL720 are the only other offerings to top this one on my “want” list.
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